‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 2
One afternoon at the late end of Autumn, a brief space of intensely yellow light shone, calling irresistibly to those who, like me, are apt to linger forgetfully indoors, “Come out, for I am on my way South!”
I heeded the call and was in the patch of green that I laughingly call my “garden”. Having weeded and tidied as much as I could bear, I was trying to rise off the turf. Large circles of damp had soaked my trousers while I had been kneeling at the edge of the lawn; and soggy scraps of leaf litter stuck to the cuffs of my gardening coat. Moisture had seeped into my soft, comfortable shoes. After only an hour outside, I was surprisingly stiff and finding it hard to unbend, my precarious balance and the uneven ground conspiring against me. My elbow crutch which I had carelessly abandoned was too far away to be any use.
Dilemma: should I just stay where I was and hope that my stick got up and came to help me; or should I crawl over the grass to fetch? Mummy the dog?
A giggle erupted noisily from me at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation and I saw myself as others must see me, sprawled flat out on the damp grass, like a sunbather who has forgotten what time of year it is.
Over the fence floated a voice. “Hallo there! Hallo, I was just wondering… Are you all right?”
“I …yes, I am – all right!” I sat smartly upright, more formal, trying hard to straighten my face, but by now I was enjoying that floating feeling intense hysterics leaves behind. I didn’t want to get down off my cloud just yet. I tried to compose myself, wiping smile lines with my hands into a semblance of respectability. I felt mud smear over my cheeks, blending nicely with a sweaty sheen.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am fine, thank you. Having a bit of a rest, that’s all.”
“I see. I’ve just moved here. The name’s Arthur Thompson.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Thompson – Arthur,” I called. “I just fancied a lie down.”
“Oh! I quite understand. Earth is refreshingly non-committal, I find.”
Then his face was gone and I sat alone on my ridge of earth, my elbow crutch still out of reach. Where did he go? Was he offended? Restored by laughter, I happily crawled over to my gleaming steel branch and picked it up. “Come on, you!” With a grunt and a painful heave, I rose to my feet, a mess of shuddering spasms, grateful not to be watched: Must not laugh, must not topple over again. Stagger, clutch, trip, sway: Got it!
With a deep sigh of relief I finally stood straight. Stiffened and over-tired after working in the garden, standing usually takes several minutes of intense, trembling concentration, and frankly, there are some things that middle-aged women do best with only God’s eyes upon them.
“You managed to get up, then?”
My neighbour had been watching. Suddenly I felt deeply annoyed and embarrassed. Is privacy only for other people?
Thankfully, automatic pilot came to the rescue.
“Yes! Thank you, I get there in the end. It just takes time, that’s all.”
“I’m sure. You seem quite the expert. Care for a cup of tea?”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t drink tea.”
“Makes me ill.”
”I’m sorry, I don’t drink alcohol either.” I was beginning to wish I sounded less like a fundamentalist party pooper.
“Cake? Biscuits? A fancy?” A further shake of the head, and Mr. Nice Neighbour changed tack.
“Never touch them. Sorry…I can’t eat any of that, but we could do sandwiches or something?”
“That would be grand. I don’t know many people around here, you see, and my wife just died.”
“I’ll just get my stuff in and come over.” Shocked by my neighbour’s confession, I pitched back and wobbled madly for a few seconds: For God’s sake, Marian, don’t fall! I gritted my teeth to keep my balance.
All the while, evening shadows were creeping quietly over the earth, darkening the grass. Collecting my bag of tools, I draped my kneeling mat over my free arm and tottered inside, aching all over. After the late autumnal freshness, the stale air indoors felt like a warm shroud.
“Mum?” Elaine was staring at me. “What have you done to your face?” Rushing to the hall mirror, I was horrified to see my reflection, like that of a small child who has been caught out scoffing powdered drinking chocolate.
“Oh God! I met our new neighbour; he was talking to me over the garden fence.”
“New neighbour, eh? That’s nice….” Elaine winked and nudged me. Suddenly interested in boys, she was always dropping harmless, suggestive hints.
“It’s not like that!” I nudged back. “I mean,” I spoke slowly, the full horror slowly dawning on me, “He saw me looking like this – our entire conversation!”
“So?” She wanted details.
“I look a mess!”
“Did he run screaming back to his house and slam the door?”
“No, he smiled.”
”He obviously fancies you.” Elaine grinned as if it was the most natural thing in the world for any neighbour to fall in love with her mum at first sight.
“Obviously.” I pulled a pained expression like that of a starving wolf, common to all mothers whose children say embarrassing things that they don’t really feel like contradicting, gems such as “I think you are beautiful” or “He obviously fancies you.” No middle-aged single mother worth her salt wishes to deny these things outright; but it feels foolish to agree, ridiculous to concur wholeheartedly. Middle age is a time for mothers to cherish hopes quietly, not shout them out in front of their pubescent children.
(to be continued)